John Rushkin once said, “Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.” Weather has amazed and fascinated man for centuries. Some weather pheonmena are irregular and rarely seen, yet when they are, they captivate our attention. Here are ten of the most amazing, fascinating and captivating weather phenomena ever captured on film.
Also called a nimbus, icebow or Gloriole, a halo is an optical phenomena caused by ice crystals. These create colored or white arcs in the sky. Halos are formed around the sun as moisture is refracted from the sun’s rays in the upper atmosphere. As the light is reflected and refracted by the ice crystals, it may split up into colors due to dispersion, creating a halo effect. They may also be seen around bright stars, the moon, and some planets such as Venus.
2. Aurora Borealis
Commonly referred to as the Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis is a natural light display in the sky, consisting of charged particles from the Sun that have reached the Earth’s upper atmosphere and become excited. They are usually more visible closer to the poles and during the equinoxes of the year. In the southern hemisphere, the Aurora Australis, or Southern Lights, can be seen from high latitudes in Antarctica, South America or Australia.
3. Pyrocumulus Cloud
Also called a “fire cloud,” a pyrocumulus cloud is a dense cumuliform cloud that is created by fire or volcanic activity. It is created by the fast and intense heating of an area, which causes convecture. Pyrocumulus clouds can be seen from volcanoes and forest fires. Additionally, the mushroom cloud typically seen following a nuclear explosion is really a pyrocumulus cloud.
When precipitation falls from a cloud but does not hit the ground, it creates what is known as virga. In higher altitudes, this precipitation is usually in the form of ice crystals, and looks like trails from clouds. Low humidity and high temperatures can cause rain to completely evaporate after it is released. Virga can be beautiful but quite hazardous to pilots, as dry microbursts can be created. Meteorologists have created the acronym “”Variable Intensity Rain Gradient Aloft” to describe the virga phenomenon.
5. Fire whirl
Also known as a fire devil or fire tornado, a fire whirl occurs when a fire attains vertical velocity and becomes a whirl or tornado-shaped column of air. A fire whirl may separate from the main part of a fire or consist of a vortex of flame. Fire plumes in columns of rotating air carry smoke, debris and flames. The most common cause of a fire whirl is a wildfire. While fire whirls may look amazing, they can be quite deadly and destructive. Luckily, this potentially catastrophic form of fire is fairly rare.
6. Mammatus Clouds
Mammatus clouds are also called mammatocumulus clouds and are named for, you guessed it, breast-shaped clouds. These clouds look like they have cells (or breasts) hanging from them. Others say they resemble a sagging porch. Mammatus clouds form during strong storms like tornadoes or approaching severe thunderstorm fronts. Contrary to popular belief, seeing mammatus clouds does not guarantee that a tornado is on the way.
7. Colored moon
A colored moon can be created from a variety of atmospheric issues. Moons have appeared to be blue, orange, pink and red. Things like excess smoke or dust in the atmosphere and eclipses can also cause the moon to change color. Poets have waxed on about the beauty of various colored moons over the ages. Astronauts who are lucky enough to go into space often see the moon’s “dark side” and note that the Earth illuminating it makes the moon glow like a Christmas tree.
8. Noctilucent clouds
Noctilucent clouds, or night-shining clouds, are clouds existing up very high in the atmosphere that refract light at dusk when the Sun has already set, lighting up the sky with no apparent light source. They look like cirrus clouds but in actuality are much higher in the atmosphere than everyday cirrus clouds. These clouds are so thin that they are only visible at twilight, when the sun shines on the highest atmosphere. Noctilucent clouds are commonly seen in the Southern hemisphere and sometimes look electric blue in color.
A naturally occurring optical phenomenon that bends light rays and produces a displaced image of an object or the sky is called a mirage. Usually mirages are seen on hot surfaces, like roads or the desert. Mirages are not hallucinations, as they are real phenomenon that can be captured on film. The refracted light rays form a false image that represents various things depending upon one’s interpretation. Mirages can be seen for several hours if one is stationary, but if the source of the mirage or the observer moves, sometimes mirages disappear.
10. Belt of Venus
Also called Venus’ girdle, the belt of Venus is an atmospheric optical phenomenon that occurs at sunrise and sunset. A band of pinkish or brownish sky will appear between the sky and the horizon. This is also known as the antitwilight arch. The same effect is present during a total solar eclipse. You can view the Belt of Venus best when the atmosphere is cloudless, just after sunset.